Happy Belated Christmas! It has been a busy Christmas week for me, so my column comes five days after Christmas Day. The good news is that my column is still as relevant as ever, because the “Christmas season” is still here! That's right, Christmas doesn't end on December 25th. Many in the secular media would have you believe the “holiday season” is from the end of Halloween until December 25th, when it reality it runs from Advent until the Baptism of the Lord in mid January. Additionally, the traditional “twelve days of Christmas” actually begin on Christmas Day (December 25) and end on January 5, eve of the traditional date of the Epiphany.
Today's column is going to focus on some of that, as well as other tidbits about the Christmas season that you may have overlooked.
Let's begin with the word Christmas itself. For Chicago Catholics, we can take particular pride in this word, since the English word “Christmas” is a distinctly Catholic word. We often hear about 'keeping Christ in Christmas', but what about keeping “mas” in Christmas? Is that about weight or something? Nope. The word 'Christmas' originates from the Middle English word “Cristemasse”, which was a compound that literally meant "Christ's mass". The phrase was first recorded in 1038 A.D. This is because we go to Mass to observe the birth of Christ. Since many Protestant Christians reject the word “Mass” to refer to their religious services, and many Orthodox Christians use the term “Divine Liturgy” instead (since the word “Mass” comes from Latin rather than Greek), this makes the word “Christmas” a word with a distinctly Roman Catholic origin. Isn't that cool?
Now, let's look at the “holiday season”, as the media would say since they like to avoid the word Christmas and pretend made up holidays like “Kwanzaa” are just as popular. What other Christian holidays fall during the Christmas season? Some of the most influential and observed feast days during the Christmas season include the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 (a holy day of obligation), the Feast of the Holy Innocents (also called Childermas, or Innocents’ Day) on December 28th or 29th, which commemorates the massacre of the children by King Herod in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus, the Feast of the Holy Family on December 30th (honoring Jesus, Mary and Joseph as a family). The Feast of the Epiphany, on Jan. 6th (also known as Three Kings Day in Roman Catholicism), and finally the Baptism of Christ or the Baptism of the Lord, which occurs in early Jan. (usually Jan. 14th in Roman Catholic Churches) and commemorates when Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan by John the Baptist.
There are also number feast days for Catholic saints during the Christmas season. These include observations for St. Francis Xavier (December 3); St. Nicholas (December 6); Blessed Juan Diego (December 9); Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12); St. Lucy (December 13); St. John of the Cross (December 14); St. Stephen (December 26); St. John the Evangelist (December 27), and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (January 4). Some of these, like Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Francis Xavier, are particularly important in various Catholic traditions. St. Nicholas of Myra, of course, better known as “Santa Claus”, is the saint most associated with Christmas and gift giving.
Finally, we can also thank American Catholics for making Christmas into a joyful public celebration. As I noted in a column from previous years, it may shock many Christians to learn that public celebrations of Christmas were actually banned in American at one time. During the colonial era, many Puritan churches believed Christians to be an “unbiblical” celebration run by “papists”, since the Bible never mentioned the exact day that Jesus was born. In Boston, they even went as far as banning Christmas trees and other Christmas decorations that were considered to be “unholy pagan rituals”, and traditional Christmas foods such as mince pies and pudding. Puritan laws required that stores and businesses remain open all day on Christmas, and town criers walked through the streets on Christmas Eve calling out "No Christmas, no Christmas!" Christmas remained sporadically banned in parts of the United States until 1820, when the Catholic custom of publicly observing Christmas became universally widespread. In short, our Protestant friends out enjoying their eggnog and Christmas tree lightnings should be thankful their Catholic neighbors fought for their right to do so.
That's all for now. See you and next year, and may all your Christmases be merry and bright!